What does it mean to boast?
Even if you can’t quote the definition, you know it when you see it, just like our kids do. There is a certain way you tweak your voice, a certain way you hold your head, and ultimately a certain way you view yourself that is boasting. Through all those signs, whether they are explicit or implicit, boasting is an inflated view of oneself and one’s accomplishments. But according to Paul, boasting has a good and right outlet.
It’s like that with a lot of things. Sex is not bad; it’s a question of how our sexual desire is expressed. Neither is study, neither is eating, neither is zeal. The desire or inclination isn’t what’s bad; these desires become sinful when they’re expressed in the wrong ways. On the subject of boasting, Paul finds room for it, but only when the cross looms large in the background:
Brothers, consider your calling: Not many are wise from a human perspective, not many powerful, not many of noble birth. Instead, God has chosen what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen what is weak in the world to shame the strong. God has chosen what is insignificant and despised in the world—what is viewed as nothing—to bring to nothing what is viewed as something, so that no one can boast in His presence. But it is from Him that you are in Christ Jesus, who became God-given wisdom for us—our righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, in order that, as it is written: The one who boasts must boast in the Lord (1 Corinthians 1:26-31).
What does it look like to boast in the Lord? There is, of course, the most straight forward meaning – that boasting in the Lord is not being proud of your own accomplishments, but instead sharing freely and loudly what Jesus has done on the cross. It means a vocal testimony of the grace of Jesus in your life – that you were dead in your transgressions and sins, but by grace alone through faith alone and in Christ alone have been made spiritually alive and brought into the family of God. But is that the only way to boast in the Lord?
Maybe not. In fact, here are three other surprising ways that we might also boast in Jesus:
1. Through silence.
If you’re a parent, maybe you know the feeling of reading the proverbial bumper sticker that says that another kid is an honor student, or on the travel ball team, or knows how to eat all their vegetables without complaining. When you’re in a conversation with other parents, and the conversation turns toward the children, there is this thing that rises up inside you to compare. To say something better. To make sure that other person knows that your kid might not do the thing their kid is so awesome at, but he or she does some pretty great stuff, too.
That’s boasting. But it’s boasting in an inappropriate outlet. That’s the kind of boasting that comes from a compulsion to validate your own parenting or your own child. At the root, then, it’s insecurity. Boasting in the Lord means, sometimes, just being quiet. It means being able to allow someone to enjoy their moment in the sun and congratulating them on what they’ve had happen instead of making sure to get your own stuff wedged into the conversation.
2. Through peace.
Anxiety is one of those things that runs rampant in our lives; it seems we have an endless capacity for worry. For me personally, anxiety invades my heart even on the best of days and during the best of times. Tomorrow is always out there, and there’s always something to worry about. But every so often you come across that very rare person that seems to live in a much more free way than you do. It’s not because they have less things to be anxious about; it’s because they are anxious about less things.
Where does that lack of anxiety come from? Well, in the best case scenario, it’s because that person truly takes Jesus at His Word when He says not to worry about tomorrow because God will take care of you then, in His way, just as He took care of you today in His way. The presence of that kind of peace, which does indeed surpass understanding, is one of the ways we boast in the Lord. We brag about a Father who can take care of us despite all the evidence in the world that might make us wonder whether He will.
3. Through honesty.
Truly owning our sin is extremely difficult. Even when we know we are in the wrong, even when we know we should apologize, even when clearly the fault is ours, we want to find some wriggle room. We leave ourselves a back door with apologies framed in terms of “…but”. We practice the art of self-protection by making sure that everyone knows how much stress we are under or how great the pressure of life is so there’s some understanding for why we have done what we’ve done.
But when we are honest – when we just apologize; when we just confess; when we just acknowledge we made a mistake in judgment; and leave it at that without explanation or justification, we are boasting in the Lord. That’s because in that moment of absolute honesty and ownership, we are expressing our confidence that the true Judge has already pronounced us forgiven. Because we know we are forgiven, we are free to be truly contrite and broken instead of holding on with white knuckles to the crutch of self-justification.
Boast in the Lord explicitly. Share the gospel far and wide. And while you are, boast in the Lord implicitly. Boast in the Lord in the way you don’t speak, the way you look at tomorrow, and the way you embrace your own fallenness today.
Michael Kelley is the Director of Discipleship at Lifeway, and author of Boring: Finding an Extraordinary God in an Ordinary Life, and Wednesday Were Pretty Normal